World

US Dem debate: no clear Sanders challenger

By AAP Newswire

The stakes could not have been higher at the US Democratic presidential debate, with the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday contests looming in the week ahead.

Most candidates on the stage on Tuesday in Charleston, South Carolina, shared a common goal: stalling Senator Bernie Sanders' march toward the nomination.

As they battled to emerge as the alternative to Sanders, the rivals appeared to have a collective sense that, for at least some of them, time was running out.

Here's a look at how the seven candidates on stage fared:

BERNIE SANDERS

Sanders was the object of much of the evening's hand-wringing. Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar tried to sound the alarm, arguing that with the self-avowed democratic socialist Sanders as the nominee, the party had little hope of unseating President Donald Trump in November.

Sanders also seemed to acknowledge that parts of his record are potential liabilities. He called his past support for legislation protecting gun manufacturers from lawsuits "a bad vote" but pushed back on accusations that he would be sympathetic to authoritarian regimes in places such as China and Iran.

JOE BIDEN

The free-wheeling debate format, in which candidates routinely exceeded their time and talked out of turn, sometimes kept Biden on the sidelines for long periods of time, leaving him increasingly exasperated.

Even so, Biden likely accomplished the goal of trying to assure South Carolina voters he remains a leading option.

ELIZABETH WARREN

She again aimed most of her fire at Bloomberg, to the point where at times it seemed she was more intent on making sure the billionaire New Yorker and former Republican does not end up the nominee than making the case for herself.

"The core of the Democratic Party will never trust him," said Warren, herself a former Republican.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG

At one point, under attack from Warren for his past support of Republicans, Bloomberg finally seemed to give up trying to assert his liberal bona fides. Instead, he turned pragmatic.

"I'm the one choice that makes some sense," he said.

"I have the experience. I have the resources. And I have the record."

PETE BUTTIGIEG

African Americans make up two-thirds of the Democratic electorate in South Carolina, and with his low support from those voters leaving little hope of scoring high in the state, Buttigieg must hope his steady debate performance translates into an infusion of quick cash to keep his campaign afloat past Super Tuesday.

AMY KLOBUCHAR and TOM STEYER

Klobuchar, a senator from Minnesota, and Steyer, a California billionaire, largely appeared to be afterthoughts for most of the evening.

Almost 30 minutes passed at the start of the debate before Klobuchar spoke. Steyer often had to battle to grab the moderators' attention.

Both tried to present themselves as reasonable alternatives to Sanders.

Like Buttigieg, Klobuchar draws little support from black voters, and she is already looking past South Carolina to Super Tuesday with the hopes that winning her home state will keep her alive.

Steyer is looking for a top-three finish in South Carolina, though he said after the debate he had the resources to stay in the race longer.